“Oh. Shit,” he said. And so it began.
The end occurred mostly in her whispers and his silence—because he couldn’t whisper and they didn’t want to wake Colin’s parents. They succeeded in staying quiet, in part because it felt like the air had been shocked out of him. Paradoxically, he felt as if his getting dumped was the only thing happening on the entire dark and silent planet, and also as if it weren’t happening at all. He felt himself drifting away from the one-sided whispered conversation, wondering if maybe everything big and heartbreaking and incomprehensible is a paradox.
He was a dying man staring down on the surgeons trying to save him. With an almost comfortable distance from the thing itself as it really was, Colin thought about the dork mantra: sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. What a dirty lie. This, right here, was the true abdominal snowman: it felt like something freezing in his stomach.
“I love you so much and I just want you to love me like I love you,” he said as softly as he could.
“You don’t need a girlfriend, Colin. You need a robot who says nothing but ‘I love you. ’” And it felt like being stoned and sticked from the inside, a fluttering and then a sharp pain in his lower rib cage, and then he felt for the first time that a piece of his gut had been wrenched out of him.
She tried to get out as quickly and painlessly as possible, but after she begged curfew, he began to cry. She held his head against her collarbone. And even though he felt pitiful and ridiculous, he didn’t want it to end, because he knew the absence of her would hurt more than any breakup ever could.
But she left anyway, and he was alone in his room, searching out anagrams for mymissingpiece in a vain attempt to fall asleep.
It alWays happened like this: he would look and look for the keys to Satan’s Hearse and then finally he’d just give up and say, “Fine. I’ll take the fugging bus,” and on his way out the door, he’d see the keys. Keys show up when you reconcile yourself to the bus; Katherines appear when you start to disbelieve the world contains another Katherine; and, sure enough, the Eureka moment arrived just as he began to accept it would never come.
He felt the thrill of it surge through him, his eyes blinking fast as he fought to remember the idea in its completeness. Lying there on his back in the sticky, thick air, the Eureka moment felt like a thousand orgasms all at once, except not as messy.
“Eureka?” Hassan asked, the excitement evident in his voice. He’d been waiting for it, too.
“I need to write this down,” Colin said. He sat up. His head hurt like hell, but he reached into his pocket and pulled out the little notebook he kept at all times, and a #2 pencil, which was broken in the middle from his fall, but still wrote okay. He sketched:
Where x = time, and y = happiness, y = 0 beginning of relationship and breakup, y negative = breakup by m, and y positive = breakup by f: my relationship with K-19.
He was still sketching when he heard Lindsey Lee Wells coming and opened his eyes to see her wearing a fresh T-shirt (it read GUTSHOT!) and toting a first-aid box with an honest-to-God red cross on it.
She knelt beside him and pulled the T-shirt off his head slowly, and then she said, “This is going to sting,” and dug into the cut with a long Q-tip soaked in what seemed to be cayenne pepper sauce.
“FUG!” shouted Colin, wincing, and he looked up and saw her round, brown eyes blinking away sweat as she worked.
“I know. I’m sorry. Okay, done. You don’t need stitches, but you’re going to have a little scar, I bet. Is that okay?”
“What’s another scar?” he said absentmindedly as she pulled a wide gauze bandage taut against his forehead. “I feel like someone punched me in the brain. ”
“ Possible concussion,” Lindsey noted. “What day is it? Where are you?”
“It’s Tuesday, and I’m in Tennessee. ”
“Who was the junior senator from New Hampshire in 1873?” asked Hassan.
“Bainbridge Wadleigh,” answered Colin. “I don’t think I have a concussion. ”
“Is that for real?” asked Lindsey. “I mean, did you really know that?” Colin nodded slowly. “Yeah,” he said. “I know all the senators. Also, that’s an easy one to remember—because I always think about how much your parents have to fugging hate you to name you Bainbridge Wadleigh. ”
“Seriously,” said Hassan. “I mean, you’ve already got the last name Wadleigh. That’s a bad sitch, just to be a Wadleigh. But then you take that Wadleigh and you raise it to the power of Bainbridge—no w
onder the poor bastard never became president. ”
Lindsey added, “Well but then again, a guy named Millard Fillmore became president. No loving mother would ever make a Fillmore a Millard, either. ” She fell into conversation with them so quickly and so naturally that Colin was already revising his Celebrity Living theorem. He’d always thought people in Nowhere, Tennessee, would be, well, d umber than Lindsey Lee Wells.
Hassan sat down next to Colin and grabbed the notebook from him. He held it above his head to block the sun, which had darted out from behind a cloud to further bake the cracked orange dirt.
Hassan only glanced at the paper before saying, “You just got me all riled up and your big revelation is that you like getting dumped? Shit, Colin, I could have told you that. In fact, I have. ”
“Love is graphable!” Colin said defensively.
“Wait. ” Hassan looked down at the paper again, and then back to Colin. “Universally? You’re claiming this will work for anyone?”